Unfortunately you can’t protect your children from everything and the reality is that whether they are watching television, playing an online game on the family computer or connecting with their friends via social media networks, they will be exposed to age-inappropriate content at some stage. What they do about it – whether they view it, pass it on, tell you about it or not, is going to be determined by their age, their developmental stage and the nature of the relationship they have with you.
Keep tabs on the kind of TV programmes your child watches and how many. There is plenty of good stuff on TV but there is also an enormous amount of violence, dissing, negative gender stereotyping, reality TV and scary 24 hour news reporting. All have the capacity to traumatise, disturb and even shape your child’s values, beliefs and culture.
- Make use of the PVR and help your children make wise choices in the programmes they watch.
- Don’t leave the TV on when no-one is watching.
- Keep control of the remote control. Children must ask before switching on the TV.
- Make sure you and your child’s caregivers are following the same media policy so there is consistency.
- Don’t put a TV in your child’s bedroom.
- Helping children develop healthy TV viewing habits at a young age lays the foundations for what they do on other media.
Know what games your child is purchasing – check the age guidelines and the type of content they will be playing with. Know what games and apps they are downloading onto your phone or theirs. Chat to other parents about what their kids are playing too. Watch the impact of a game on your child’s behaviour, emotions, sleep patterns etc. Trust your intuition.
- Become familiar with the different genres of games available on the market much like you are familiar with the different sections in a toy or a video store.
- Keep your family gaming console in a public space
- When your child first starts with a new game allow for additional time for them to get into it, as you would need extra time when starting a new novel. Some games, particularly for tweens and teens are quite complex and involved and they will need to have a few uninterrupted hours to get to grips with it. After that, do place limits on how much time and how often your child can play.
Whether your child accesses the internet for research, gaming or social media via your family computer, a tablet or a smartphone, you need to install filters across these devices and activate parental controls on their cellphone. Taking physical precautions such as this are essential, in the same way as you would lock the door to your house to keep your family safe and intruders out. The average family needs standard risk management which consists of the following:
- Antivirus software on your computers to protect you from viruses and malware (malware masquerades as something safe but it can take over functions of your computer). If you have the right software, you will receive warnings such as: ‘Are you sure you want this programme to make changes to your computer?’ before you download a piece of software on an update, for example.
- Security software that protects your computer from people having access to it from outside, and protects you from clicking on bad links.
- Firewall software offers complete security from outside intrusion much line burglar bars in your home. You can also set firewalls to block certain activity.
These three products can be purchased separately but are often combined in the same product for standard levels of safety. If you are looking for free online safety programmes to download, AVG and Avast are recommended among others. Net Nanny is currently the leading online safety software that parents around the world purchase.
While installing software is vital, your relationship with your child is the most important safety app there is and it is the one app you can’t buy. It is you who provides context for their lives and their actions therein, both on and off-screen. You also provide a value system so that your child can compare other value offerings which no longer just occur in the real world but increasingly in the online world too. Just think of this very common scenario: what would your child do if someone asked them to post a picture of their private parts online or via an instant messaging app?
For more detailed information on all of the above do read my book, Tech-Savvy Parenting (Bookstorm, 2014) co-authored with Arthur Goldstuck. Click here for more details about the book.
Click here for an order form (books ordered before 11 August will be available for R200 instead of R220.00.